How to Switch Part Eleven: Buying a Mac - Tips and Advice

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By: switchtoamac at: 12:00 AM on October 14, 2008 | Comments (1)

I've been asked numerous times for my advice on how one goes about buying a Mac. One of the most common questions is "How do I buy a Mac?"  Other questions that I've frequently find myself answering are "Where is the best place to buy a Mac?" and "How do I get the best possible price" The answers to these questions are not necessarily mutually exclusive and depend on numerous factors.  The most noteworthy include:

  • Are you buying your first Mac?
  • What are your shopping needs?
  • Do you need assistance from a salesperson or do you know which Mac model you plan to buy?
  • Do you want to customize your Mac?
  • Is there an Apple Retail store or Apple Authorized Reseller within your vicinity?
  • Do you plan to purchase your Mac online?
  • Are you eligible for a discount?
  • Do you want a new or certified refurbished Mac?
As you can see, there are no simple answers to the where and how questions.  It ultimately depends on your needs, the proximity of an Apple Retail Store or reseller and discount eligibility.

Retail Purchase - Apple Stores and Resellers
Many buyers prefer to go into a store and get their hands dirty when purchasing a computer.  They want to see how the computer looks, feels, and operates.  If you are such a buyer, you'll be best served by visiting and Apple Retail sore.  This is especially true for people who plan to purchase their very first Mac.   Apple has on display all the current Mac models available for purchase and  you can test drive these models free of charge.  Simply walk up to a display model and begin using it.  Most have have fully functional or demo applications (software) in addition to active Internet connections which allow you to experience the full potential of that particular Mac model.  

In my view, the Apple stores are the best place to test drive and experience a Mac.  Not only can you test out every Mac model but Apple salespeople are also on hand to answer your questions and guide your purchase.   Although Apple resellers have Macs on display, most do not have the required salesperson expertise or adequate demonstration setups for customer evaluation.  Therefore, you'll be better off visiting an Apple Retail Store if one is nearby.

Standard build or Customized Mac
One of the key questions you'll need to ask yourself is: Do you need to customize your Mac or will a standard build suit your needs?  Apple Retail Stores and resellers stock standard configurations that can be taken home the day of purchase.   Under some circumstances, Apple Retail Stores will stock non-standard configurations (this isn't the norm) or the Genius Bar can perform an immediate upgrade on the spot.  If however you need to customize your Mac, you'll be asked to do it online.  A salesperson will guide you through the ordering procedures on one the Macs in the store.

Apple offers buyers the opportunity to customize their Mac, Apple refers to these systems as  Configure-to-order (CTO) Macs.  You start off with a base configuration and customize it to suit your needs.  A custom-configured Mac is built to your specifications based on the available product options.  Perhaps you want a larger hard drive, more RAM, want to have certain Apple applications pre-installed or want other upgrades.  CTO Macs have to be configured at the Apple Online Store even if you visit an Apple Retail location or reseller.  The reason is that Apple ships standard configurations to their retail locations.  As stated earlier, you may be able to purchase a non-standard configuration at an Apple Store but this isn't available at all times or locations.  The Genius Bar may be able to perform basic upgrades to a standard Mac model.  For example you can purchase additional RAM at the Apple Store and an Apple Store Genius may be available to install it while you wait.  The one thing to note about online-ordered customized systems is that you'll have to wait before you can get your hands on your new Mac.  Once the order has been placed the system needs to be built.  You'll be given an estimated delivery timeframe when you place your order.  The downside is that you'll have to wait until its built and shipped so you'll have to forego the immediate satisfaction!  Keep in mind that once you place a customized order, it cannot be modified.

Internet Purchase
If you're the type of buyer who knows exactly what you want and/or don't need to test drive a Mac prior to purchase, the Internet may be the best option.  Perhaps you're ordering a CTO Mac (see above).  On the other hand you may be a current Mac owner and want to add a Mac to your collection or simply replace your existing model.  Or you may be a switcher who has completed the evaluation process (visited an Apple Retail Store, used a Mac owned by a friend or family member) and know which model you intend to purchase.  If you fall into any of these categories, you can purchase directly from the Apple Online Store (located at Apple's web site) or resellers such as Amazon and MacMall.  If you're an ADC member (see below) you're required to make your purchase online.  today.

Some people do not have access to a nearby Apple Retail Store or authorized reseller.  For these buyers the Internet is the only option.

Take Advantage of Discounts
There are several ways to save money on a Mac.  You may qualify for a discount off a new Mac if you meet specific eligibility requirements. Another great way to save is by purchasing a Certified Refurbished Mac.  The sections that follow highlight the types of discounts that you may be able to utilize.

Education Store -  college/university students, faculty, administrators, staff members and K-12 teachers qualify for discounts.  You will have to prove that you're eligible before you receive the discount.  You can make a purchase at an Apple Retail location or at the Apple Online Store.

Apple Developer Connection (ADC) Student Discount - The $99 (US) enrollment fee gives students a one-time ADC Hardware Discount towards the purchase of a Mac that will be used for development purposes. The upside here is that the Mac discounts offered via the Student ADC program exceed the standard education discount. These Macs can only be purchased online following a documented eligibility verification process conducted by Apple.  You can find out more at the Student Developer Hardware Purchase Program page.
Apple Developer Connection Discount
This is generally utilized by businesses and/or developers and not cost effective for the average consumer.  Find out more at the Apple Developer Connection site.

Employer Discount
What many people don't know is that Apple may offer you a discount based on your employment with a given organization.  Simply call up an Apple Retail location to determine if you're eligible.  You'll have to bring in proof of employment such as an employer-issued identification card.

Certified Refurbished Macs
Apple Certified Refurbished Macs are pre-owned Apple systems that Apple has refurbished prior to offering it for sale.  Note that these Macs have been returned by a prior owner under Apple's Return and Refund Policies.  These Macs go through a rigorous process to qualify as certified refurbished and come with the same 1 year warranty found on new Macs.  You can even purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan (extended warranty) for Apple Certified Refurbished Macs. 

Authorized Resellers
  • Amazon - frequently offers rebates on Mac purchases.  If you live in a state that does not tax online sales, you could save a substantial amount off the total purchase price.  Click to view the full range of Apple Computers & Hardware at Amazon.
  • MacMall - one of the largest online Apple resellers
  • Retail establishments - popular ones include BestBuy and Micro Center in the United States

As you can see there are numerous things to consider before you decide where and how to purchase your Mac.  We recommend that you take the time to evaluate your purchase requirements and buying preferences.  Be sure to check if you qualify for a discount before making your purchase because you could end up saving yourself a lot of money. The money saved could be used towards upgrades and accessories or left in your bank account.  Happy shopping!

1 Reader Comments

Great site and great post! I finally gave in and bought a mac... loving every second of it!

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